Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 41

Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 41

Rehlinger looked up, his eyes sharp.

“If I die and the grand duchess delivers a daughter, who shall be named Dorothea both for my mother and because a daughter is a gift of God as much as a son, then the county of Burgundy shall go to my brother Ernst.”

Bernhard reached out and grasped Rehlinger’s arm urgently.

“If the child is a boy and dies with no heirs of his body, Burgundy shall go to Ernst. Make sure of it. Wilhelm cannot take it; Albrecht could not hold it. Ernst will be a careful steward of any land and people entrusted to his care. If the time has come for me to die, Ernst shall be my heir and he will keep my faith.”

Two hours later, the grand duke signed, in the presence of numerous reliable witnesses–as many as could be called to the palace.

His hand was shaky, but he was clearly compos mentis when he signed.

Then, though, he closed his eyes. “Zum wollstand der betrangten evangelischen Kirche,” he murmured, “unnd zu des Evangelischen Bundes unnd gemeinen vatterlands diensten.”

Rehlinger, carefully keeping the document folded that so no one might see the contents, sealed it, secured it in a portable safe, and then placed that in the grand duke’s own locked trunk that remained in his bedroom.

****

“What on earth was he talking about?” Moscherosch asked. “For the benefit of the hard-pressed Protestant church and in service of the Protestant League and our common fatherland?”

“I suspect,” Chaplain Rücker said, “that he was remembering the ideals he had when he first became involved in this war.”

“He doesn’t pay me to write about those. My salary comes from the revenues of the County of Burgundy.”

“Just as well,” Michael John said. “Forget about what he said. Keep your mind firmly fixed on the subject of which side of your publicist bread is buttered.”

Chapter 24

Against All Reasonable Expectations

Brussels

“What is Aldringen like?”

Maria Anna looked at Nicole.

“It’s reasonable for me to ask. He’s administering Bar, which is mine, as well as Lorraine. That means that he is carrying out acts in my name. I’ve heard the rumors from the up-time encyclopedias, such as that Wallenstein was jealous of him and prevented his promotion. Even that he was involved in the assassination of Wallenstein in the other world. Will that cause problems for the duchy with the USE, since they are allied with Bohemia now?”

“Well…he’s a very zealous Catholic. A competent commander and administrator. Self-disciplined. His critics consider him to be more ambitious than he should be, given his family background.” The queen in the Netherlands grinned. “His chin is very long and pointed. His hairline is receding. Exactly what do you want to know?”

“Is he cruel?”

“I’ve heard people use the word ‘hard.’ Quite a bit. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard ‘cruel.'”

Lorraine

Against all reasonable expectations, Gaston made it to Neufchâteau with the remnants of the cavalry.

Against all reasonable expectations, the infantry regiments had waited for his return.

In the category of what could only be a divine miracle, Bernhard’s forces, which had circumvallated Neufchâteau while Gaston was gone, were pulled away to assist in the search for his cavalry.

Gaston successfully entered the fortress.

Then he was stupid enough to leave it again.

Monsieur Gaston decided that it was time to return to France, considering that France was so conveniently nearby.

****

Thysac’s scouts observed the pullout.

They reported it to Aldringen.

Aldringen thought a while.

He had developed a certain sense of how Bernhard’s people worked by now. There was the inner circle–Der Kloster.

For weeks now, the senior members of Der Kloster had clearly been distracted by something they were not revealing. It did not seem likely that they would give him their full attention now, even if he appealed to them in the name of Claudia as regent of Lorraine.

They were Bernhard’s men.

She was Bernhard’s wife.

But…

In Lorraine, there were two perfectly competent military contingents, belonging to Bernhard’s forces, yet not commanded by members of the Kloster. In the name of Claudia, he could call upon de Guébriant and Schaffelitzky. Men who were, perhaps, not fully trusted by the Kloster insiders. Men who were not, therefore, quite so distracted by whatever was going on at Châtel-sur-Moselle.

The three of them made an unlikely and spontaneously formed troika.

Not to mention that, thanks to de Thysac, they knew where Gaston’s infantry was to be found, which direction it was going, and how fast it was moving.

****

“To His Grace Bernhard, etc.

“Yesterday morning,” Shaffelitzky wrote, “by the mercy of God Almighty, Colonel de Guébriant, General Aldringen, and I, after a night march that began before dark and lasted until just before dawn, guided by scouts native to the Duchy of Lorraine, successfully joined our contingents together for a combined strength of over three thousand cavalry, fifteen hundred dragoons, and nearly ten thousand infantry counting the Lorraine militia which M. et Mme. Haraucourt and M. de Thysac have brought into Aldringen’s service.

“Expecting that Monsieur Gaston would not anticipate us before tomorrow and since the men and horses, although tired, were well fed and well rested before these last two very strenuous days, we determined to move against him at once. We attacked at dawn, when his encampment was at its least alert.

“With this letter, I am sending all his banners, two captured lieutenant colonels, a large number of other captured officers, and some two thousand other prisoners. Unfortunately, Monsieur Gaston himself fled before our victory was complete. The highest ranking prisoner taken is Marchéville, who was found lying severely wounded on the field. My personal surgeon is attending him and predicts that he will survive, although with the loss of an arm and, probably, of an eye. This should not reduce his ransom value for his captor.

“May I mention that our expedition is in need of provisions, ammunition, and a month’s pay for the men, since I offered bonuses if they executed this maneuver successfully. That offer, combined with their reasonable expectation of ransoms for the prisoners, has thus far enabled me to control plundering.”

He finished the field report and looked at de Guébriant. “I only hope he’s alert enough to read it.”

“Just in case he isn’t, have your secretary send a duplicate copy to the grand duchess. Give another one to Aldringen to send to the king in the Netherlands. Bernhard may skin us alive once he recovers, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.”

*****

“We can only reasonably presume that the plague is among the cavalry Monsieur Gaston hired away from Phalsbourg as well as among his locally recruited soldiers from Lorraine,” Aldringen said. “It’s certainly among my locally recruited soldiers from Lorraine and in Fernando’s regiments that were at Metz, although not excessively.”

“If it wasn’t before, it is now,” Schaffelitzky answered. “Well, my regiments were already carrying some. And equally reasonably, we have to presume that any soldiers who escaped will spread it as they flee. Even more, we must presume that as he is in flight himself and unable to pay them, they will scatter and carry it along the disparate paths they take.”

Aldringen nodded. “At least they are headed for France rather than into Alsace or at us.”

“We hope, not that I wish the plague on my own home,” de Guébriant sighed. “That would seem logical, but they could be going in any of a half-dozen different directions.”

“Or all of them. I cannot imagine that Clicquot managed to keep control of the remnants.” Schaffelitzky stood up. “Who among us is going to call for plague-fighting assistance? Is there any to be had?”

“We can ask Burgundy to send more. Claudia, as regent, is the responsible party. Out of the Low Countries, perhaps. Or, as a real stretch, out of the USE. Send a message to Merckweiller-Pechelbronn. Perhaps they will be willing to assist in snuffing out their plague problem at its source.”

Merckweiller-Pechelbronn

“It just never stops,” Derek Utt said. “You fight a battle, you lose some men no matter how careful you are, but then it’s over till the next battle. This goes on and on. How many people have we buried, just right here?”

“About eight hundred,” Matt Trelli said, “a lot of them refugees who came south while Gaston was still running loose. Who is it this time?”

“Lawson Thompson. He and Tina have two little kids back in Grantville. And Sergeant Hartke. I can just imagine what Dagmar is going to say.”

****

“I’m sorry, Nina, but he didn’t make it.” Gus Szymanski patted her shoulder.

Mel Springer’s wife didn’t cry. “It makes me so mad,” she screamed. “Mad as hell. Mainly at him for doing anything so stupid as come into a plague-ridden region when he didn’t have to. Mad at Ed Piazza for sending him over to Fulda. Mad at this whole damned century we’re stuck in.”

Gus didn’t say anything.

“We’ve been waiting for Eva to die, you know.”

He nodded. The older of the two orphaned German girls that Mel and Nina had adopted was already sickly when they wandered into Grantville back after the Ring of Fire, and she had gotten steadily worse since then. Some kind of a genetic problem, Doc Adams said. Eva didn’t manage to get enough nutrition out of what she ate. Nothing anyone could do.”

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